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Rep. Gottheimer is confident Democrats will work out the social spending bill

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Infrastructure? Check. But what about the rest of President Biden's agenda? He needs every Democratic lawmaker on board for his social spending bill, and that's just not the case yet. A group of centrist Democrats are worried that the additional $1.75 trillion package isn't a good financial choice for the country. Josh Gottheimer is one of them. He's a Democratic congressman from New Jersey and the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Congressman, thanks for being here.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER: Morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Explain in your words why you aren't a yes on the bill yet.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, first, let's talk about the huge win for the country last week and for the people in northern New Jersey that I represent with this bipartisan once-in-a-century infrastructure package, which will help us fix our roads, our bridges, our water infrastructure, tunnels, build the Gateway tunnel between New York and New Jersey and help us fight climate change and invest in broadband. So it was a great win and for the president as well. And now we're, as you pointed out, moving on to the next piece of legislation, called Build Back Better, which many of us, including me, support. It's - and that includes everything from helping us fight climate change to support child care and universal pre-k to reinstating...

MARTIN: So why hasn't it passed yet?

GOTTHEIMER: ...A sustainable tax deduction are solved.

MARTIN: Sorry to interrupt you. But taking...

GOTTHEIMER: Well, no, no, I'm glad. I...

MARTIN: I understand you want to take the win on infrastructure, but looking forward to this spending bill...

GOTTHEIMER: Well...

MARTIN: ...Why aren't you a yes?

GOTTHEIMER: So I'm optimistic we'll get there. As you probably heard many of us say, as you pointed out, what's very important is that, A, we get through the bill and make sure we read every page of it, which we received Thursday, and we're doing that. But also, you know, we received a slew of data from the Treasury Department and the White House, and now we're waiting on information from the Congressional Budget Office, which we asked for. We're expecting to receive that in the next seven to 10 days to make sure that the - that everything's paid for, is fiscally responsible. And we receive - and we expect that information that we will receive to match up and - with what we got from the White House and Treasury this past week. And, you know, I'm optimistic when we come back on the week of the 15 that we'll move this legislation forward.

MARTIN: Explain why this is a priority for you, though - the CBO score - because you just voted to pass the infrastructure bill, and the CBO says it adds $256 billion to the deficit, the infrastructure bill.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, so the way we analyze it and what - the information we receive, that's paid for. You know, the CBO, their analysis is critically important, as you'll see the tables that we get, we hope, from CBO in the coming two weeks, to make sure that items that were added at the last minute, which we're reviewing now, to make sure that that's indeed paid for. And I think, you know, that what folks should understand is, you know, when you get this information and when legislation is updated, it has an impact on what we call the score, what something costs. And at the end of the day, when you look at these investments, which are so critical, from reinstating SALT - or the state and local tax deduction - to investing in child care and universal pre-k, you want to make sure that it's fiscally responsible as well. We believe it will be based on the data we initially received from Treasury and the White House.

MARTIN: But, I guess, why worry about it if you weren't...

GOTTHEIMER: But again, we want to see this information.

MARTIN: If you weren't worried about the deficit with infrastructure...

GOTTHEIMER: Oh, of course, we are. Of course.

MARTIN: ...Why are you worried about it here?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, no, the - we - at the end of the day, of course, we were worried about it with infrastructure. And we received data that ended up matching what our expectations are. So this is all making sure that - you know, that what we do receive matches our expectations, and then we'll move forward.

MARTIN: If it needs to be cut, if it comes back and it doesn't meet your expectations and you need to scale back, would you be willing to pare down the part of the bill that will allow for tax deductions for the wealthy - what you mentioned, the SALT proposal?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, given what we received from the White House, we believe it will match. And secondly, turning to SALT, as you know, where I live in northern New Jersey, the state and local tax deduction is all about hardworking middle-class families. You know, if you look at places like Vermont, for instance, the median - where the median property tax is $4,500 and the median income is $60,000 for a family. You go to where I live in northern New Jersey and the median property tax is $15,000 and median income is $100,000, right? You talk about the difference there. That's a cop and a teacher here in northern New Jersey who make $200,000, right? So reinstating SALT is so critically important for them to get tax relief because, in 2017, when the red states gutted SALT, they hurt people, middle-class families, in districts like mine. And what's critically important is that we actually give them some tax relief back and help them with - for life. You know, it's very expensive up here. So we need to make life a little more affordable for them.

MARTIN: In our time remaining, I want to talk about the position your party finds itself in a more general way. The governor in your state, New Jersey, narrowly kept a seat in elections last week. Democrats took a big loss in the Virginia governor's race, reflecting eroding support for Democrats in rural and suburban areas. Let me ask you - amid criticisms that the Democratic Party is an unwieldy big tent right now, is there a cohesive message from Democrats to voters, and do you think it's working?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I think what's very clear is - what the voters said is we need action. And last week by take - by getting what was, you know, one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure legislation in history across the finish line, that was a clear sign of action. I believe we'll also move forward with Build Back Better, which will help, again, families in districts like mine and all across the country. That's what people want from us. They want us to take action to help make their lives better. So, you know, when we don't act, people get frustrated. I - listen; I was frustrated, too, the fact that we didn't pass infrastructure. I took up this bipartisan bill which came out in early August out of the Senate with 69 votes. And, you know, it took us - this is my opinion - too long to get across the finish line. But now we did. And frankly, when we take action on Build Back Better and move that forward, which we will - I'm confident of; we'll get there - that we'll show huge wins for the country and show that we can govern. And that, to me, is what's critically important.

MARTIN: Josh Gottheimer, he is a Democratic congressman from the state of New Jersey. We appreciate you taking your time with us this morning. Thanks.

GOTTHEIMER: Thanks so much for having me. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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